Today, seeing Facebook posts of Christa McAuliffe's quote "I touch the future; I teach" and President Ronald Reagan's speech in response to the tragedy, I have some very complicated thoughts. Most of these thoughts are about unintended consequences.
I don't believe that Reagan decided that a teacher should be the first American civilian sent into space specifically because he knew that the Challenger would blow up after lift-off. He wasn't sending a message to unionized teachers across the nation, warning them, "You'd better shape up & get with the program, or this is what will happen to you and your precious free public schools." But given Reagan's antipathy toward unions, he may as well have.
Christa McAuliffe's death, along with the other six, was an unintended consequence of America's Cold-War space hubris. It is also deeply symbolic of what policy-makers of both major parties, at both state and federal levels, have done to public education.